Richard Dobson & Tasmi Quazi
The state approaches to the determined pursuit of “world class” urbanism without adequate public participation, and the ensuing protests in both Brazil and Turkey of late, are corroborating the South African experience. Namely, how damaging this approach is to basic service provision for lower socio-economic groups of society. The increased public spending on stadia related to once-off events and shopping malls within neglected areas in particular is leading to the further alienation of the rights of common people.
Conversely though, the reactions of Brazilian and Turkish citizens show that the days where national states deceive the citizenry for political prerogatives is over. People are becoming opinionated about how the public purse is used. The public challenge against top-down business-as-usual approach is fast spreading, especially with the proliferation of social media.
In May 2013 in Turkey for instance, there were peaceful demonstrations by local citizens to counter planned construction of a shopping mall at Gezi Park, which would replace one of Istanbul’s few green spaces in its city centre. This was met with violent police crackdown. The excessive reaction by the government sparked a full-scale demonstration across various cities against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling government’s “increasingly authoritarian and uncompromising tendencies” ¹.
Across continents to Brazil in June 2013 and still on-going, two million street protesters across 80 cities began voicing their concerns about the social costs of the wave of mega-events to be hosted in Brazil. This ensued after having hosted FIFA Confederations Cup soccer this year, the infrastructure boom in anticipation of the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and the Olympic Games to be hosted in 2016. The demonstrations were similarly met with brute police force which eventually forced President Dilma Rousseff to make significant concessions, saying:
“We need to oxygenate our political system, to find ways to return to our institutions to be more transparent, more resistant to bad practices and more open to the influence of society.” ²
The parallels with the South African story, even closer to home in the inner-city of Durban, was manifest through a shopping mall development proposed by the city government to replace a 101 year old fresh produce market, ironically, declared a heritage site. This sudden venture coincided with major infrastructural upgrade projects related to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. What it really represented for many locals was the attempted subversion of development processes skewed under the guise of meeting “world class” standards.
Naturally, the mall proposal was met with massive public resistance and inevitably failed to be realised – successfully retaining the livelihoods of nearly 3000 visible informal workers that would have been displaced, including the urban memory of a historic site. Therefore the emphasis of the political prerogatives of public land being subverted for private development and with inadequate public participation is echoed by the Turkish experience.
Similar to Brazil, there were protests in South Africa about the social costs of hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer and there have been heightened service delivery protests after the games. As Brazil is experiencing now, the mega-event was a generator of increased spending in infrastructure and in post-World Cup South Africa, massive amounts of money from the public purse is being pumped to subsidise public transport such as the Gautrain and in the maintenance of the numerous underutilised stadia. Furthermore, recent revelations have come to the fore of the abuse of the public purse by numerous private companies in the construction industry that colluded to enrich themselves from the World Cup development. This has provided more evidence that the spend for staging world-class events and standards in shaping urban development does affect service delivery to a society that is still in dire need of their basic rights.
In addition, the campaigns to promote the hosting of big events is touted as one of national significance, to such a degree that leaders; from the President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, the President of the country, City Managers and local authority officials, accuse those that voice their concerns about the social costs for not looking at the big picture and being unpatriotic. However, the experiences in South Africa show that the concerns were well founded and other countries are also questioning these decisions.
What’s more, the social costs are going to be felt even more during the period of global economic recession, with speculation as to whether mega-events can realistically continue to be staged again. One thing is for certain, ordinary citizens are increasingly becoming more opinionated in shaping these decisions and processes.
Locally, beyond the halting of the demolition of the inner-city fresh produce market, which was a successful reactive recourse – a proactive case study of a participatory development project has just been initiated in the construction of the Dennis Hurley Centre. Future posts will provide more detail about the innovative methods employed by this Project. These include strategies to ensure that the existing informal activities in the precinct are not displaced during the construction phase, and extensive consultation and inclusionary practices being steered by Asiye eTafuleni and the developers.
¹ The Drum Correspondent. June 19, 2013, A night in Istanbul: democracy is under threat
² Bond. P. June 24, 2013, International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Ordinary Brazilians foot the FIFA bill — some lessons from South Africa
² Bond. P. June 23, 2013, The Daily Maverick: Should Brazilians foot the bill so Blatter can foot the ball?
² Mail & Guardian Correspondent. June 19, 2013, Brazil’s biggest protest in 20 years continues